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S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.

Antoine Barnave

  • [A politician of the French Revolution; born at Grenoble, 1761; elected to the States-General, 1789; appointed to attend the royal family on their return from the flight to Varennes, and became from that time a defender of the throne; retired at the close of the Assembly, 1791; executed, November, 1793.]
  • Was the blood which has just been shed so pure? (Le sang qui vient de se répandre, était-il donc si pur?)

  • “The inexcusable and fatal expression,” says Sainte-Beuve, “which cost him his entire life, and at last his death, to obliterate;” called forth in reply to a denunciation of the murder of the intendants, Foulon and Bartier, who were hanged to lamp-posts by the mob in 1790. Of Foulon, who had been appointed minister, accounts vary; sympathizers with the revolution calling him harsh and exacting, while Taine (“French Revolution”) pronounces him a strict master, but intelligent and useful, who expended sixty thousand francs the winter before his death in giving employment to the poor. On the day of Barnave’s execution, two men placed themselves opposite the cart in the courtyard of the Palace of Justice; when he appeared, they jeeringly applied to him his own words, “Barnave, is the blood that is about to flow so pure?”
  • Perish the colonies, rather than a principle!

  • In the Constituent Assembly, May 7, 1791, upon a proposition to give colonial legislatures composed of whites the initiative of legislation concerning persons. Dupont de Nemours, replying to those who maintained that the colonies would be lost without distinction of caste, exclaimed, “Better sacrifice the colonies than a principle!” and Robespierre added, “Perish the colonies, if they wish to force us to decree according to their interests!” From these two phrases Barnave formed the more compact one, “Périssent les colonies plutôt qu’un principe!”
  • Of the many forms of this expression, perhaps the earliest may be found in Corneille’s “Rodogune,” 1648,—“Let the sky fall, so that I be avenged!” (Tombe que moi le ciel, pourvu que je me renge!) Danton exclaimed, “Perish my reputation, rather than my country!” (Périsse ma réputation, plutôt que ma patrie!) Vergniaud was probably more sincere, in the Convention, 1792, “Perish our memory, but let France be free!” (Périsse notre mémoire, pourvu que la France soit libre!)
  • George Hardinge uttered a similar expression in the House of Commons, during a debate on the Traitorous Correspondence Bill, March 22, 1793: “Perish commerce, let the constitution live!”
  • Take courage, madame: it is true that our banner is torn, but the word “Constitution” is still legible thereon.

  • To Marie Antoinette on the return from Varennes, 1791. The queen said of Barnave on this occasion, “If ever power is again in our hands, pardon is already written in our hearts;” again she declared, “I will place myself between Barnave and the executioner, but Lafayette I never can forgive.” Her daughter, the Duchess d’Angoulême, thought that if the queen could have overcome her prejudice against Lafayette, and had shown him greater confidence, the royal family would not have perished. The queen considered him a traitor to the court and to his caste. “Better perish,” she once exclaimed, “than owe our lives to Lafayette and the constitutional party!”
  • The last words of Barnave, on the scaffold, “stamping with his foot, and looking upward,” were, “This, then, was my reward!”
  • Mirabeau declared of Barnave, when, as Dumont says, he was satisfied with him, certainly before their great struggle over the king’s veto, “He is a tree, growing to become some day the mast of a line-of-battle ship.”—Recollections of Mirabeau.